With the beginning of the new academic cycle in April 2011, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project has entered its fourth year in Nepal. What started out as a small test project in two schools in Lalitpur three years ago has now expanded to 32 schools in eight districts covering over 3300 students from grades two to six as Open Learning Exchange Nepal.
The program has trained over 180 teachers - most of whom had never used computers before - on integrating technology in classroom teaching-learning process. OLE Nepal has completed the preparation of curriculum-based interactive digital learning materials for grades two to six English and mathematics, and grades two to four Nepali. These learning materials, along with the training program, have been key to the success of the program at the schools.
We started out on this project with a conviction that technology has the power to change the landscape of education in Nepal. But we realized right from the beginning that technology alone could not solve all the problems that plague our education system. We honed in on two very important issues in education that technology can address, namely quality and access, and we developed the project to use technology to improve the quality of education and access to educational materials. We recognized that laptops and technology were just the means, and that any technological intervention is as good as the educational content it brings to the fingertips of the users. Furthermore, technology cannot unleash its full potential unless there are skilled teachers who understand how to integrate it effectively in pedagogical practices.
Through careful planning, and with dedicated group of educators and trainers working in close collaboration with government experts, trainers, and implementers, the project was successful in breaking new grounds in preparing curriculum-based digital educational activities and training teachers in some of the most remote areas of the country.
However, the greatest achievement of the project is not the number of students and schools that have benefited from the program, nor the innovative teaching-learning approach being practiced in the classrooms, nor the free and open access to interactive digital materials that were prepared during the past three years.
More than anything, this project has started a new direction in education that most had previously thought was not possible in Nepal. The project has demonstrated that technology-based education can be successfully introduced in rural schools, and that we can do it by preparing the available local resources in our education system. OLE Nepal has worked closely with line agencies of the Ministry of Education to build the content, train the teachers, and implement the project in the districts.
We have lobbied relentlessly with government bodies to introduce policy measures to mainstream this novel approach in education. Over the past three years, we have seen a significant increase in awareness about the merits of technology-based education. The experiences from the OLPC implementation across Nepal will be instrumental in preparing national plans and policies to integrate ICT in education. Government trainers and curriculum experts who have worked with OLE Nepal over these years will bring insights and experiences that will prove invaluable to the Ministry as it plans and implements ICT based education in the country.
In addition to the dedicated team of educators, implementers, technical staff, and volunteers, OLE Nepal owes much of its success to the many partners who have supported us in our programs. The Department of Education (DoE) has been instrumental in the planning, designing, and implementing stages of the program. As per the agreement with OLE Nepal, the DoE also played a key role in coordinating participation from other line agencies, raising awareness in various government agencies, and monitoring the project with the help of the District Education Offices. The DoE was also successful in persuading the government to allocate funds in the national budget for the project, and provide funds necessary to implement the program in two districts in 2009-10.
The Local Grant Authority funds made available by the Danish Government through its Embassy in Kathmandu has been the main source of funds necessary to develop educational content, train teachers, build local capacity, set up network infrastructure, and support the program at the schools. Similarly, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been a crucial partner in the Far Western district of Dadeldhura where three schools that are part of its Food for Education program have been benefiting from the OLPC project. In addition to funding the implementation, training, network infrastructure at these schools, WFP has also been active in helping monitor and support the program at the schools through its Sub Office in Dadeldhura.
The Dansk IT Society provided the first batch of laptops that were used in the test phase in 2008, while the second batch of laptops came as donation from Swift Banking group through the OLPC Foundation. We continue to work closely with the OLPC organization based in Cambridge, USA on adapting the laptops to fit the needs of learners in Nepal. OLE International also based in Cambridge, has helped design our projects in the past, and continues to support our endeavours. The Nepal Library Foundation (NLF), based in Canada, has been the main partner in the digital library project (E-Pustakalaya) that boasts a collection of over 2100 books and reference materials enjoyed by students and families at the 32 schools as well as Internet users both in Nepal and abroad.
OLE Nepal will continue to work alongside the government and other partners in various areas to promote ICT-based education in public schools, including the implementation of the OLPC program in additional schools. Our experiences over the past three years have reinforced our initial belief that there needs to be a strong national and local support structure to successfully leverage technology to improve student learning. And it is encouraging that the Ministry of Education is close to completing the ICT in Education Master Plan that will provide guidelines to all line agencies towards this common goal.
This is republished from the OLE Nepal Newsletter of OLE Nepal